Thu 4 Mar 2021 03:24
Position: 43 48.61 S 176 42.36 W
At anchor Port Hutt, Chatham Island
Wind: NE F4 Sea: calm Swell: nil
Weather: overcast, mild
Day’s run: 140 nm noon to noon, 155 to anchorage
With the eased conditions, sailing over the last 24 hours has been quite pleasant. We remained close reaching on the port tack, which we have done since leaving Cook Strait, but with the lighter winds and the smoother seas, the ride has been much more comfortable.
As we approached the island this morning, we found ourselves in fog. Once more I could not help but reflect on the ramifications this would have had in days of yore, before the advent of GPS. The morning was overcast so we would not have been able to get morning stars nor a sun sight. We would have had to have relied on dead reckoning from a position some twelve or more hours old meaning the accuracy of our current position would likely have been significantly in error. At the western end of Petre Bay is a reef that rises suddenly from the depths so the echo sounder would have provided minimal warning if we had happened to be running onto it. Likely I would have biased my approach to the south so as to make sure we were clear of the reef but the southern coastline of Chatham Island is steep to so in the fog we would also likely have been upon it with little to no warning.
But, fortunately, my ruminations were merely that. We are no longer in those primitive days. Our cage of satellites orbiting overhead tell us where are on the earth’s surface to within meters, and our chart plotters graphically display this information showing us where we are relative to dangers instantaneously. It certainly is a much safer world for mariners than it used to be.
So, instead of biting my nails to the quick, going dead slow, and spending the morning anxiously peering into the fog and listening intently for any signs of breakers ahead, I relaxed and made a cup of tea (though of course still keeping a good lookout). At 1125 we were entering Petre Bay and as we did so the fog lifted to the north and I was able to see Point Somme, the northern headland of Petre Bay. Hooray! We had made landfall.
I contemplated where we should go for the night. My preference was for Waitangi Bay because there is a small settlement there with a shop and a pub. However, Waitangi Bay is open to the north and as the wind was from the north it would likely have proven uncomfortable, if not potentially dangerous if the wind picked up during the night. So, in the finest nautical tradition, I opted for prudence and made for Port Hutt which, according to the pilot, provides shelter from all weather conditions.
As we entered Petre Bay the wind gradually backed into the NW allowing Sylph to head up to the north eastern end of the bay. At 1420 we tacked onto starboard and found we were able to lay the entrance to Port Hutt on Petre Bay’s northern shore. Indeed, the wind conditions were perfect. We were able to sail all the way into the port, right up to its head where we handed sail, turned into the wind, and let go the anchor in eight meters of water.
The most recent weather forecast has the wind staying in the north until Sunday when it is expected to swing into the southwest. This should make Waitangi Bay more suitable, so the plan for now is to remain here until Sunday. In between now and then I will relax, do a few boat chores, and perhaps explore the bay a little. In my minimal research before departing the mainland, I read that nearly all the land here is private property and one should seek permission from the owners before setting off on any hikes, so I shall likely limit my explorations to the dinghy and the immediate foreshore.
There is a fish factory on the western shore and a few houses scattered about. Cows dot the hillside and the beach at the head of the bay, bringing numerous blow flies into the boat that cow pastures inevitably breed (fly screens have been deployed). The country is low lying and relatively featureless with few trees, though a few low conical hills break the monotony of the landscape. The skeletal remains of a number of wrecks lie around the shoreline. A rusted out trawler lies high and dry on the rocky eastern headland of the port; a cabin cruiser holed, battered and weathered lies among some rocks on the eastern shore; and two more substantial sized wrecks, one a classic old coastal steamer and the other a large trawler, lie in Howard Bay on the western shore where the fish works are located. It is a rather desolate scene, one that perhaps underscores my musing this morning as we made landfall in the fog, but it is not without an austere beauty.
All is well.